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Hercules Glades is a small wilderness area tucked into one of the divisions of the Mark Twain National Forest in southern Missouri, about an hour and a half southeast of Springfield. With a little over 12,000 acres and some 31+ miles of trails, there's a fair bit to see in the area. Most of the activity centers on day hikes, short-to-moderate term backpacking, and horseback riding.
The wilderness area is laid out along the east-west axis of Long Creek. Hike or horseback access is from either the east or west end of the wilderness. Trails are not well marked, nor particularly well maintained. The trails do see at least moderate traffic, especially on the major routes, and so are generally easily followed. The terrain is generally rocky, and footing can be difficult. The trail system is described by the NFS as "moderately strenuous to strenuous". Down along the creek area there are numerous stream crossings necessary, but unless the water is high, most can be safely and successfully undertaken with aim at dry socks in waterproof boots.
One of the more popular attractions in the area is the small falls on Long Creek about 3 1/2 miles in from the east end trailhead. With decent water flow, the stream is clear, cold, and beautiful, and the falls, with a drop of about fifteen feet over very rocky substrate, makes for a pretty sight as it dumps into a small pool below. Fish are restricted to smaller varieties of minnows, shiners, and the like, with the largest we spotted on our trip this last weekend being no more than six to seven inches long.
The "glades" of the area are open balds and meadows that, relative to the region, are drier than one might expect. Because of this, wildlife in the area includes such critters as scorpions, roadrunners, and even tarantulas, as well as some more desert-like species of lizards and snakes. Although there are occasional claims of bears in southern Missouri, we saw no sign of them on this trip, nor have we seen evidence of bears on previous trips into the area.
Weather during our trip was unexcelled. It simply can't get any better than mid-70s during the day, blue skies, light breezes, and temperatures dropping into the mid-40s at night. "Hallelujah gorgeous". Hiking up to one of the higher balds to take in the view is well worth the effort--the panorama is beautiful, though not dramatic. Bird-watching is fruitful, with one birder in our group reporting having seen more than twenty species during the hike in, without special effort to add to his list.
No advance registrations required, and though sign-in at the trailhead is recommended, it's clear that many if not most parties do not even bother to register there. We camped near the falls, and became one of three groups so situated. The "wilderness" flavor was thus diluted more than one might like, if seeking solitude, etc. Parking at the east trailhead, from which we entered the wilderness area, is sufficient for at least ten vehicles.
The closest towns are all very small and relatively undeveloped. No significant gear or food to be had within about fifteen miles of the east trailhead, but a bit closer on the west end, I believe.
Leave No Trace methods are encouraged and expected. Fire regulations are what I consider general common-sense. Potable water is NOT available within the area at all, and there is NO water at the trailhead. In all our experiences there, simple filtration has been adequate to prevent water-borne illness. With the moderate to high human and horse use of the area (we saw one equestrian couple on the trip), it may be expected that Giardia is a likely find within the watershed.